I’m an extremely anxious lady. I get anxious about going to Val for lunch; I get anxious about giving myself five versus seven minutes to get to the bus stop every morning; I get too anxious to move from my bed to my backpack across the room to get a simple draft I could revise and send in five minutes out to work on. I get anxious about big things, like the future and my place in changing or being complicit in the evil capitalist order, and earning enough money for health insurance next year, and I get anxious about the horrifically minute things, like not giving myself the time to do one reading out of the fifty assigned over the semester for a class, or an insidious comment I made in class that I feel will make somebody hate me for life, or a friend’s being irritable that I wonder might spell the end of our friendship forever.
Lately — and maybe these are just the people I attract, but I have a feeling that this is more pervasive than just my limited social circle — I feel that I am not the exception in my near-paralyzing anxiety, but the norm. I’m surrounded by anxious ladies, and everybody that I love has recently confessed to me some form of anxiety or the other. Anxiety manifests in these driven, amazing, beautiful ladies I call my best friends in diverse ways: some show it in their bodies, with wrecked sleeping and wrecked appetites. Some stay in and sleep all day; some can’t sleep at all. Some can’t eat anything; some find their only comfort in eating. Some chain smoke endless cigarettes, and some hit the gym and run their frustrations out. Some feel averse to work, and shun it, and hide in the blankets and see TV all day. Some make themselves “high functioning sociopaths” (as a close friend once described herself to me, though I doubt she is a sociopath at all) and go through the motions with eerie efficiency and with prolific production of emails and papers and reading commentaries and organize and attend endless meetings and events. Some care too much, and spend days agonizing and worrying and thinking out loud and thinking to themselves; some deal with it by saying that they don’t care at all, donning protective apathy and jaded weariness as a shield from how much caring can hurt.
I’m not here to dissect these forms of responding to anxiety; nor am I here to trace their roots. Why ladies? Why now? Why so pervasive? There are many things that can give us answers to these questions, not the least the impact of being a woman in a time that is at crossroads with the demands of capitalism for entrepreneurship, leadership and selfish individualism, and the patriarchy’s demands for submission, motherhood and sexual availability. Being women at an environment that is highly liberal, individualizing, toxic, competitive and “sees you as equal to men,” we yet embody a subjectivity that is always already imbued with a contradictory set of principles of behavior. Again, feminist theory probably has a volume of text on this subject, and says it more powerfully and eloquently than I possibly could or am interested in for the purposes of this article. A close examination of the effects of late capitalism, social media and radical individualization at this current moment in time too will no doubt give us more fruitful insight into the genesis of these anxieties: we are at an unprecedented moment of surveillance, expectation, economic uncertainty and neoliberal devastation. But again, that’s somebody else’s article, or perhaps mine, another day. This is probably why my love life is so bad, really: this is not meant to be an investigation, or an academic inquisition. This is a goddamn love letter.
I’m not very good at love letters, so bear with me if I falter. Dear anxious ladies, everywhere, in all ends of campus, and in all ends of the world: I am currently in a state of mind where I hate most things, but know that I feel an intense, solid, strong bond of affection and solidarity for you. Affection — and admiration tied to this affection — for how strong and brave you are to get through days of trials nobody but you see as trials; affection and admiration for the fact that you go to bed every night and wake up the next day and do it all again (and affection and admiration for all the times you wake up and you can’t do it all again, because you’re still living in a screwed up world and that surviving is an act of strength in and of itself).
Dear anxious ladies, I feel solidarity with your struggles, even though I don’t always understand your anxieties and you will not always understand mine. I feel love in this solidarity, love whether I know you and have told you this personally, or whether I have never met you, because you are someone who can empathize so deeply with my own experience, because you are someone who can understand the depth of what I am feeling, because you are someone I want to take care of in order to take care of myself, but not in a selfish way, or in the way of a self-sacrificing martyr. Taking care of people, friends, with anxiety, is a way of self-care in how radically communitarian it is, in how much it shows that you are not alone and you are capable of love: love of both yourself and others that mirror yourself.
Dear anxious ladies, do not ever feel invalid, isolated, frustrated with the depths of your own anxiety, or alone. Do not feel frustrated because you are too strong willed, too hopeful, too full of dreams and aspirations, too full of caring and opinions, too full of worries and demands of yourself, to be able to be the perfect subject of capitalist competition, of the job market, of the demanding academic culture or of the demeaning hetero-patriarchy. Do not feel that you have shown weakness in your anxieties: by contrast, you have shown incredible strength and resilience, because you are too infinite and uncontainable to be fit into the narrow categories the social order demands of you, and anxiety is just your reflex resistance to the status quo trying to accommodate you within it. Do not feel alone, or like a freak, or a hopeless case: we are increasingly becoming the norm, and we are becoming the norm because there is an increasing body of resistant and strong women who, pulled between contradictory and forceful demands in the current oppressive social order we inhabit, chose not to surrender quietly. Do not ever feel invalid, because your emotions and sensitivities take over you at moments nobody else considers important, and because they cripple you from action: celebrate, instead, the capacity to care so strongly, to feel so much, because it constitutes a part of your empathy, of your thoughtfulness about the place in the world around you, of your incredible selflessness in your instinctive placement of your worries and values above your own self-preservation.
Dear anxious ladies, fight on. We’re going to win this.